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Rio Tinto lithium assets in Serbia close to exploitation

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Near the city of Loznica there is one of the world’s largest deposits of a metal, whose era has just begun and which can bring us the real wealth. Our country is in the world top based on reserves of this metal.

A European game for lithium is awaiting! The one who has the most usable ores will be the first to start the production and who could make most benefit from the whole process by selling to the whole world  final products – lithium batteries for cars, mobile phones, cameras…

At the start of the race, there are three countries – Czech Republic, Germany and Serbia. Our country, as the potentially largest lithium deposit on the Old Continent, and one of the world’s largest, will start production in 2023 according to plans. Germans believe that they will start this job two years earlier, and the Czechs do not lag behind much for their closest neighbors. Serbia is a serious competitor, considering the wealth it has at its disposal in Jadar near Loznica, but the question remains whether this opportunity will be used.

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– lithium explorations are conducted by the company “Rio Tinto”, whose experts discovered the Jadar site in 2004, says Vladimir Simic, professor at the Mining and Geological Faculty in Belgrade. – It’s a jadarite deposit – a new lithium-sodium borosilicate mineral. Jadarit is a unique mineral found only in our village near Loznica. Due to high concentration of lithium and boron, Jadar has been proclaimed one of the largest lithium deposits in the world. It is significant that many countries with larger reserves contain lithium minerals in pegmatites, while in Loznica they are located in sedimentary rocks, so it is possible that the lithium production technology to be simpler.

On „Rio Tinto” website, which has invested around USD 90 million in the “Jadar” project so far, it’s published that deposit mineral resources of have increased from 117 to 136 million tons of ore. According to Professor Simic, this shows that with only one deposit, with relatively low average lithium content, we have two percent of the world’s reserves.

The first task is to start production, and the long-term goal is the final product. Both, the Czechs and the Germans, are planning to build factories for the production of batteries for electric car models, cameras, medical devices … In general, factories with new technologies, are the fastest growing. They are especially turning to renewable energy sources of the second generation – large-volume storage batteries.

This is the goal in Serbia. When asked how realistic it is not to stop just exploitation, Professor Simic says that it depends not only on the one who is exploiting, but also on how much we will be competitive in obtaining the final product – lithium-carbonate, or even a battery. It should be noted that the world’s largest importer of lithium is Japan, South Korea and China, where most of the batteries are produced.

– The Jadar deposit has been discovered and explored by responsible geologists and good experts from “Rio Tinto”, which is also world-renowned in the production of mineral resources – emphasizes our interlocutor. – So far, very good results have been achieved, good business and human relations with the local community have been developed, and this is an important prerequisite for the future successful operation of the company. In my opinion, certain technological problems can be expected, as it is a unique mineral in the whole world, and the limiting factor for the rapid opening of the mine could be a rather high depth, which implies increased exploitation costs.

Loznica has great expectations from jadarite,. Loznica Mayor, Vidoje Petrovic points out that the task of the local government was not to provide only exploitation and processing in cooperation with the Government of Serbia and “Rio Tinto”, but also to prepare the ground for the creation of semi-products or final products.

– We are ready to contribute to this goal – says Petrovic. – I am sure this is the attitude of our government and the president of the state. In particular, we would like that interests of the city ,the state and the companiey interlace in this way. Our correspondence with “Rio Tinto” is appropriate and professional.

Petrovic believes that the jadarite will bring a better life to the whole region, in terms of employment, and in terms of increasing the city’s budget through mining royalties, taxes and contributions. As he points out, these are expectations from his fellow citizens, because many see the chance that even more people will be employed in the production line of the cooperants than those who will be directly working in the company.

– In company “Rio Tinto”, which was few months ago in the process of developing project pre-feasibility study ,  it is expected that  feasibility study will be developed soon, Petrovic said. – The Serbian government has recently formed an interdepartmental group, which includes representatives of our city besides the ministers, , in order to monitor activities on the realization of the project, which, as can be notes, has a national importance alongside the local one.

Ton of lithium currently costs USD 10,000 at stock exchanges, and five years ago the price was three times lower. The lithium value was discovered when smartphones appeared. Today it is called metal of the future, because it has a wide range of applications. Batteries for hybrid and electrically powered vehicles are selected, which will only conquer the world’s roads. From 1.1 billion cars, today only 10 million are driven by batteries. It is estimated that in a quarter of a century there will be 600 million of these cars. And everyone will need lithium batteries.

The Czechs have already made a calculation – the lithium exploitation, which will begin in 2021, will last 21 years, and the state will only earn about EUR 1.3 billion annually from the tax. The construction of factories for the production of batteries, training of experts and skilled labor are also planned … Currently, there are no such calculations in Serbia, as the project is in the phase of the preliminary assessment of the economic justification of production.

Investment for 50 years

“Rio Tinto” is, as a mining company, a global giant. It has its headquarters in London, the second in Australia, but the unit that develops this program in Jadar region is from their American section, from Colorado. These are major investments. I was most impressed because these are long-term programs, and it only takes patience. It is an investment program for 50 years and a 50-year mining operation, if everything is successful, said Ambassador of America in Belgrade, Kyle Scott, during a recent visit to Loznica.

Germans do not waste time

Serbia could use problems that appeared in the Czech Republic, where the opposition has challenged a memorandum signed by the government with the Australian company European Metal Holding, based in the British Virgin Islands, on lithium explorations in Sinovec, at the north of this country, and requested to cancel it. It’s a highly possible that this will happen.

The Germans, on the other side of the border, faced with the bankruptcy of Solar World, a company that was conducting explorations at in Altenburg site, but had already formed a new company. They plan to produce lithium from 2021 and its processing in Dresden.

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